On the morning of November 9, 2016, I woke with a feeling of numbing sadness as fear and uncertainty weighed heavily on my mind. As the weeks progressed, my shock would eventually lift. It was replaced with a call to action, to use my skills in some way. As the voices of politicians—men in suits with no fathom of how dependant women are on healthcare—filled my ears with obsessive talk of defunding Planned Parenthood, my sadness turned into anger and the need to do something screamed from inside me. Yes, because I am a woman and the mother of two young daughters. Yes, because I used Planned Parenthood when I was a student without health insurance. And also because the idea that this vital resource could be taken away from so many women—some of whom desperately rely on it—infuriated me. I knew I had to turn this energy and passion into action, and I knew the message must be empowering for women. So I reached out to those who had a platform and with whom I had worked closely with in the past: my friends at Life & Thyme.
Doyenne: Female Force in Food is our visual tribute to 14 highly accomplished women from Los Angeles’ culinary world. The vision behind these portraits was to show these individuals as strong and confident, without losing sight of the fact that they are women. Women, who are beautifully layered creatures who embody a spectrum of attributes: intelligence, humor, compassion, sexiness—just to name a few. A woman doesn’t need to forsake her femininity in order to be resilient and determined.
I am truly humbled to see so many from the city of Los Angeles support this photography exhibit, making Doyenne a sold-out event (with proceeds going to Planned Parenthood’s Los Angeles chapter). I hope these portraits inspire young ladies to become the doyennes of their own disciplines. And I also hope this piece of work motivates others to champion those who are not being heard, and to continue fighting against those who wish to silence us.
When we started kicking around ideas for what to call this exhibit, I threw doyenne into the mix. We talked it through and felt it had the perfect balance: a word that was beautiful, but also evoked strength and leadership—very much in line with Deepi’s vision.
But when we started sharing it, we were met with a lot of puzzled looks and head scratching (all attached to nodding, polite smiles, of course—our friends aren’t animals). It’s obviously a word that has fallen out of favor, if not out of use entirely.
In modern terms, the word doyenne most often means a female leader in her field. It’s not hard to see these 14 women for being exactly that. Without question, they are role models, trailblazers and inspirations not only to young women in the culinary industry, but to everyone around them.
But by digging into the etymology, I felt even more confident that word was tailor-made to represent our project. Merriam-Webster explains that a “‘doyen’ can be a leader of a group, such as a diplomatic corps. In this regard, the word has been used to refer to someone who is specifically or tacitly allowed to speak for that group.”
Doyenne can be used to describe someone who gives a voice to a particular community. And by participating in an event like this, our subjects offer that voice not only to future generations of females in their industry (who, by the way, so desperately need it), but also beyond the borders of the food world, to women who otherwise may be marginalized, or denied the care they deserve. That collective voice is swelling, as evidenced through Deepi’s powerful work; and to me, it is what proves they embody this word in its entire essence. It is what makes these women, and the communities for which they are champions, a true force.